A New 'Style' of Climbing: the Eco-Mountaineer

© andyblain
In this article Ben Lewis, researcher at the University of Leeds, takes a look at climbing, consumption and the environment and gives us a few simple ideas on what we can do to help.

There's a lot to celebrate at the moment. The world didn't end in 2012 - apocalyptic horror stories have faded from news headlines - and according to the ancient Mayan people, we're living in a new baktun (that's the start of another 144,000 days to you and me). This presents a new opportunity to send the climbing project that's been playing on your mind all winter. Or, more seriously, this is a new opportunity for modern civilisation, a chance to change modern lifestyles. What are your hopes for 2013? This article looks at how we could be happier, climb harder and consume less for the environment.

The bad news is that the world hasn't had a fresh start this year. A recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change reveals that glacier experts may have severely underestimated future sea-level rise, as ice sheets in Greenland and Antartica melt. Evidence suggests that the world is fragile. Our ecological impact continues to grow despite the efforts of government, business and ordinary people to lower their carbon footprints. According to the UN, the world's population will reach 9 billion by 2050 and this will demand more from fewer resources. Our economies grow and living standards may rise, though we as individuals are not any happier.

Kirkstone Pass by bus  © Drew Whitworth
Kirkstone Pass by bus
© Drew Whitworth

In fact, high consumption lifestyles can make us unhappy, leading to "time-poverty, stress, competition for social status, disconnection from nature and a sense of meaningless". The answer is to keep things simple. We can be happier and healthier as climbers by consuming less goods and getting out more. With that in mind, here is a buyer's guide for the eco-mountaineer.

The UKC For Sale Forum - grab a bargain!
Seek out quality and durability
There is a variety of gear on the market today, from super-lightweight hard shells to classic mountain clothing that has been used, abused and loved in equal measure over the years. Consider buying products that will last, over performance-based clothing that could wear out with a heavy alpine season.

Learn to love your old gear
As the adage reminds us, 'a stitch in time saves nine', caring for your gear will prolong its life and save you money in the long run. Waterproof 'Tex' fabrics are easily re-proofed, ropes should be washed and duct tape can work wonders on small tears in fabric, including your tent, waterproof and dry bags. Although, always check the manufacturer's guidelines to know when to retire your climbing hardware before it becomes unsafe to use.

Repairing old kit also gives an original character to your climbing wardrobe. Whether it's retro, old skool or plain antique, hang on to old garments which could be your signature piece twelve months later. From personal experience, a friend wears timeless HH baselayers, thirty years old, still keeping her as warm and snug as the day they were first bought!

Buy second hand
Another brilliant result of the interweb, second hand gear is bought and sold regularly. Forums on UKC and Ebay may have just the item that you need, still in reasonable condition at half the price or more. B2 and B3 winter boots retail at around £200 but frequently sell for less than £100 online.

Enjoy the real experiences
For many, true mountaineering involves a physical and mental challenge in landscapes that seem wild and remote. 'Feeling the rock' during a hard climb and being on the hill as a storm rolls over are both intense experiences that embody this 'pure' and boundless pursuit. These moments give us huge personal satisfaction and a bank of stories to be told at the pub. So, next time you're jealous of your mate's swanky new soft shell, remember that it's how we climb, not what we climb in. Less about brands and image, more about the beauty of an honest, limitless sport.

After the storm - near the Refuge du Gouter, Mt Blanc  © andyblain
After the storm - near the Refuge du Gouter, Mt Blanc
© andyblain, Aug 2001

Sustainable Consumption not Anti-Consumption

Sustainable consumption is an important concept for academic experts as an answer to the problems of western culture – to consume at a rate which is sustainable for the planet. The idea of sustainable consumption emphasises positive lifestyle choices, to buy less 'stuff' and work less overtime. We can choose to get a train or bus to the crag, rather than going by car. We can make informed decisions to buy food that's in season and products that have been recycled. This is not about anti-consumption, but responsible consumption, which pays attention to our environmental impact and the needs of global society. By living sustainably, it's possible to increase our leisure time, build better family relationships and reduce our impact on the environment. This is a win-win situation.

Overall, the lifestyle of the 'eco-mountaineer' is better for your wallet and can enrich your climbing experiences. It's better for people and the planet too, which means we could be around for a lot longer than the Mayans first thought. That's something to be very happy about.

Alexander, S. and Ussher, S., 2012. The Voluntary Simplicity Movement: A multi-national survey analysis in theoretical context. Journal of Consumer Culture. 12(1) 66-86
Bamber, J.L. and Aspinall, W.P., 2013. An expert judgement assessment of future sea
level rise from the ice sheets. Nature Climate Change. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 January 2013] Donovan, N., Halpern, D. and Sargeant, R., 2002. Life satisfaction: The state of knowledge and implications for government. London: Cabinet Office Strategy Unit
Jackson, T., 2005. Live Better By Consuming Less? Journal of Industrial Ecology. 9(1-2), pp.19-36

Thanks to: Lucie Middlemiss, University of Leeds

About the author:

Ben Lewis is an undergraduate researcher at the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds. As a Mountain Leader (MLS), he also writes for an adventure sports blog at:

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19 Feb, 2013
I would be very interested to know the footprint of an average climber/walker/mountaineer compared to the average person. I know that personally i spend a lot of money in petrol, gear etc getting into the hills, the amount of plastic and other non-natural products that we own must exceed that of a citizen with no hobbies? Consumption is almost an integral part of the mountaineering community- we all crave the newest kit, a shiny new light weight carabiner. We are no different from the rest of society in our consumption. There are many comments on here about people being under equipped to go into the hills, surely encouraging further consumption in many cases.
19 Feb, 2013
Don't forget to apportion the production costs of a squillion soap operas and reality TV shows among the population of couch potatoes. They need something to do while the rest of us are out climbing.
19 Feb, 2013
I use my car about twice a month to get to the hills, easily driving 250 miles in a weekend. However, that's also the only time the car gets used, and usually there are at least 2 of us in it. Compare that to someone commuting 20 miles to work every day, by themselves, and it's not that bad. I agree with your view that the mountaineering community is no different from the rest of society in our consumption, but I think to say 'we all crave the newest kit' is a bit shortsighted. Some people consume lots and are easily enticed by shiny new stuff, others are happy enough to continue using what they have until it's falling apart. Within the mountaineering community people may be enticed to by the latest new light weight carabiner, but equally there will be plenty of people who are into fashion/video games/films/music and always want to have the latest release. However, I also see plenty of people out on the hills who are using kit that is at least a couple of decades old. Guess it's partially the difference between consumption and consumerism. Some only spend money when they have to (i.e. to replace a worn out rope), others spend money because of the satisfaction they get from owning/buying stuff (i.e. buying a 9th jacket because it's been released in a new colour).
19 Feb, 2013
I think your right in suggesting that different people in the mountains are different as i agree that you do see some people out in older clothing though i would argue that it is generally the older generations, who didnt grow up in the decades of mass consumption and therefore may be less involved in it? I would also suggest that you are unusual in only using your car to travel to the mountains, i would imagine most climbers etc use theirs for both commuting and climbing. I just think its an interesting topic as i would say that we don't own a ridiculous amount of kit - though i do work in the outdoors- but i remember moving house a few years ago and compared to the amount of 'stuff' that other non mountain/outdoors/hobby people have i think we had significantly more despite not buying many other items that couch surfers may have such as video games, dvd collections ( i know i am being very generalising here). I do think though that mountain sports are becoming more consumerised as i am sure if we examine the contents of our rucksacks there are many items in there that 30 years ago did not exist and people managed fine in the mountains without!
19 Feb, 2013
I don't personally feel that guilty about the kit I buy, because I tend towards the robust end of the scale rather than lightweight, and I'll use something until it isn't fit for purpose, rarely buying a new item when the old one is in working order. Compare this to, for example, a mate of mine, who has cupboards filled with all the novelty junk you find in the gadget shop etc.; gifts for people who don't need anything. At least the stuff I buy has a real purpose. However, I do feel a sense of guilt at the amount of petrol burnt when driving. Oddly, I don't feel it as bad when I'm going to a crag or a hill that ends up providing a really stonking day, as sometimes it would be hard to get that anywhere else. But, if it's a bimble up some lumpy Munro in thick clag, I do occasionally wonder if I'm getting anything more out of it than exercise, and do I really have to come this far to do that? Either way, I plan to do some camping this summer so I can stay up north for a night or two and pack more in for the amount of travelling done.
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